If you have been in a car wreck or if you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, the emergency room is always the best choice for treatment, but a trip to the ER isn’t always the best fit. Sometimes it is better to make an appointment with your primary care physician.
Ochsner Baptist assistant medical director Dr. Matthew LeBoeuf said the distinction between visiting the ER and making an appointment with your primary care physician can be hard to define.
“If you’re certain you need hospital care, it’s much better to be safe than sorry,” Dr. LeBoeuf said. “Go ahead and go to the emergency room to seek care…If you feel that it’s a definite emergency, whether it’s yourself or an individual that you know with a life threatening injury or medical condition, definitely call 911.”
When deciding whether to go to the ER or to your regular physician’s office, Dr. LeBoeuf said there are several factors that you should take into account.
While the list is far from all inclusive, Dr. LeBoeuf said some of the warning signs that indicate a medical emergency include difficulty breathing, chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure, fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness, changes in vision, confusion or changes in mental status, any sudden or severe pain, uncontrolled bleeding, severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea, coughing or vomiting blood, suicidal feelings, difficulty speaking, seizures and broken bones.
Conditions that, while urgent, do not typically warrant a trip to the ER include: ear infections, sprains, urinary tract infections, fevers, colds, minor flu symptoms, chronic conditions and requests such as prescription refills.
When you do decide to go to the ER, Dr. LeBoeuf said there are several things you should always remember to do.
“If you can think about it, and maybe even prepare yourself for your trip to the emergency department, have a list of all your current medications,” he said. “I would suggest making the list current on a monthly basis and always having it with you in case you have to go to the emergency department. You should have an updated list of all of your allergies and know your immunization status.”
Transporting a sick or injured person to the hospital yourself can be very dangerous since that person can deteriorate rapidly en route, Dr. LeBoeuf said.
“The paramedics are very well trained to be able to handle any type of emergency and get the patient to the hospital safely,” he said. “What we don’t want to see is patients who have a life threatening injury or medical condition getting in the car and driving.”
For parents with sick children, Dr. LeBoeuf said a trip to the ER is usually a good idea if the child seems sick or injured enough to cause concern.
“Children have very unique medical problems. They can display symptoms far different from adults, so it can be confusing to parents,” he said. “Basically, if you think your child is having any kind of medical emergency, go ahead and bring them to the emergency room.”
Dr. LeBoeuf said the biggest thing to focus on once you get to the ER is communicating exactly what is wrong.
“We want to get people to communicate as best as possible what their signs and symptoms are and what their illness is,” he said. “The waits can be very long in an emergency department, and the doctors and nurses will tend to those with the more severe conditions first...If your condition changes, make sure to let the nurse know at the desk what is going on.”
Dr. LeBoeuf said the emergency room wait time feature on Ochsner.org can be a very useful tool if you don’t want to wait in a long line, but he said patients in dire need of medical attention will always get help first no matter what the wait time.
The bottom line, he said, is to seek help quickly if you feel you need it.
To view live ER wait times for any Ochsner ER, visit http://www.ochsner.org/emergency/.